A number of schools across the country have begun revamping their curriculums—and for many, summer book lists have fallen by the wayside.
“It’s important for America’s school systems to keep pace with the times we live in,” Educational Policy Analyst Robert Chalmers told CNN.
“The fact is, most children just aren’t that interested in reading anymore. For a long time, this led educators to question what could be done to revive their interest in books. But eventually we started thinking, ‘well, what’s so great about reading, anyway?’ We realized that maybe kids were onto something.” Chalmers shrugged, glancing down at his Blackberry.
Although many educators are dismayed by the change, others have embraced it wholeheartedly.
“I could never get my students to focus for more than ten minutes on any of their assigned books,” said Maryann Munich, a third-grade Language Arts teacher in New Jersey. “Every time I turned my back on them during free read, they’d all whip their little smart phones out and text each other or play Angry Birds under their desks.”
Ms. Munich eventually began integrating YouTube videos into her lesson plans, and requiring that students watch short clips at home in lieu of writing assignments. She says the reaction from children was highly favorable.
“A child who refuses to sit in his seat and read The Phantom Tollbooth for more than 17 consecutive seconds, will sit quietly watching YouTube videos of skateboarding accidents pretty much indefinitely,” she said.
Munich says she still gives tests, to make sure that students are watching the videos. “Every single one of my kids spelled Chris Crocker’s name correctly on the ‘Leave Britney Alone’ pop quiz I gave them last week,” she said, tearing up. “They’re finally learning.”
Mike Landon, a high-school English teacher in Iowa, says he has moved over to an almost solid YouTube based curriculum during the last two years. “At first it felt kind of strange that there were no books and no reading assignments,” he said. “But man, the kids love my class.”
“When you get right down to it, what do you get out of reading War and Peace that you can’t get from watching ‘Otters Holding Hands?’” he asked, referring to a wildly popular YouTube video depicting two sea otters floating in a pool with their paws linked together.
Teachers in favor of the new curriculum note that these days there are YouTube videos which are as seminal to our current culture as great works of literature were for Americans during earlier eras.
At recent open house at his school in Claremont, CA, Principal Peter Falk spoke to parents about the value of a YouTube-based curriculum. “Can you imagine a child graduating from middle school without having ever seen ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’?” he asked, referring to one of the most viewed YouTube videos of all time.
“We’re preparing your children for life in the twenty-first century,” he said, glancing down at his Blackberry.